Friday 20 January 2023

Dancing rhythms in landscape

Dancing rhythms in landscape

Now winter is upon us, how many of us are old enough to remember the winter of 1962/63? It went down in history as the coldest European winter of the twentieth century. I was twenty-nine and crazy enough to stand outside in the snow sketching the Dutch landscape! Pale landscapes assisted me in my search for lines or groups of people, trees, buildings or windmills that would form dark shapes to dance across my canvas. I wanted to emphasise those shapes, bundled up, twisting and turning in space, balancing strategically in the composition as it were on a rope stretched from side to side. They revived memories of my hobby as an art-student, balancing on a slack-rope, relishing the space all around me. 
The windmills of a frozen Zaandijk in the winter of 1962, 
oil on canvas, approx. 80 x 60 cm.

When I moved to Switzerland a few years later, my fascination with the arrangement of forms in space continued. As I look back at these early works, I still hear the musical rhythms and tempi of these seemingly kinetic forms, forceful sounds fading to a whisper on the horizon or escaping off the canvas. The clatter of skis being put on, skiers climbing sideways with staccato edges in the snow, then rhythmic rasping sounds, fading away as they disappeared quietly over the edge of the mountain. Every skier knows those sounds.

Skiers, oil on canvas, approx. 80 x 60 cm.1966. 
Below, my woodcutters in the snow were making modern music like percussionists, with the sounds of irregular chopping and sawing, with two very quiet final notes provided by a couple of tourists, standing still, perhaps hypnotised.

Woodcutters in the snow, Blatten, near Zermatt, Switzerland,1963.

Below, the quiet adagio of a Jeu de Boules in Carpentras, Provence - minimal music, with only the rustle of plane trees, the crunch of gravel, murmured commentaries and occasionally a sudden clack! No snow here - I've faded out the background to focus on the elongated dark shape of the group, something that became characteristic of my early works.

Jeu de  Boules in Provence, oil on canvas, approx. 80 x 60 cm.1963.

But, you might ask, where is colour in this young artist's life? It was playing a waiting game, perhaps hidden by an inner struggle, inhibited by an unhappy relationship. It was waiting to explode (and it did), impelled by the inspiration of music and the realisation, long ago, that painting and music were meant to be partners in my life. Here's a link to that early blog from 2012: 
(This is an edited version of an earlier blog) 


  1. I love the archetypical expressiveness of the skiers and the woodcutters